Meanwhile, life and death on the home front…

One of my bearded dragons — the youngest, in fact — did not make it through brumation to see another spring. Fluffingston III was only a little over two years old.

Some photos of his brief journey in this world, growing quickly from fitting in the palm of my hand to the length of my forearm in only six months:

So at the moment, the remains of the beardie are safely ensconced, wrapped in paper towel and plastic, in my freezer alongside the house finch that died a little while ago… which I meant to bury last summer… or was it the summer before?

And one of our Guinea pigs is fading. Both sisters are seniors, within their species, being approximately three years old. Yet Caramel is rapidly losing weight and there’s not much we can do. Hopefully tomorrow, if she makes it through the night, I can get her outside for some fresh air and living grasses and flowers. In the meantime, I have brought in some dandelions and forget-me-nots to cushion her bedding, in case she enters a forever-sleep.

Caramel in her prime, with the various set-ups we tried before settling on the two-level cage we have now:

I have to select a part of the yard to become a pet cemetery now. I was contemplating giving each creature a Viking funeral on one of our nearby ponds or lakes, but with the current fire ban, shooting a flaming arrow (or throwing something even vaguely smouldering) doesn’t seem prudent, even on the water.

I do worry about how my daughter will take it when Caramel moves on to that great pasture on the other side. But we have prepared her. The last time she lost a creature, it was her pet fish Janine, and she cried for days. We feel things deeply, around here.

I’m very glad she chose to spend some time this evening holding the sweet bundle with her mini-Corgi bum… little Caramel tried wheaking or squeaking when picked up, but could only wheeze:

I am concerned about S’mores becoming a singleton again, too. You see, when we first brought the rescued animal home, it was only meant to be for a short time, as a foster, and her sister Caramel was next door. But while we were learning and finding out that Guinea pigs are pack animals and need companions, Caramel was not getting along with our neighbour’s pet rabbit. So we agreed to take the wee thing in addition to her sister. And we have had them for the three years since.

So the question that is plaguing me now is whether to adopt another Guinea pig or two to keep S’mores company in her final months or years (she appears to still be completely healthy and agile — but so was Caramel until the last few days), or to carry on as before.

It rather feels like Guinea pigs are similar to friendship sourdough bread. Do you remember when receiving the dough, watching it rise, and then giving half of it away? But then it kept growing and nobody wanted any more? So you’d bake it and then have a massive amount of bread? There’s a reference to it a few episodes of Brooklyn 99 (and a storyline referencing the incredible breeding powers of Guinea pigs, also). But what I am getting at is that once one keeps to the rule of Guinea pigs not being solo creatures, one falls into a pattern (or trap?) of a never-ending need to adopt new companions.

So then I wonder… do our dog and cat count as companions? Will S’Mores be all right if she doesn’t share her space with another Guinea pig, since those other furry creatures are still around? Would it help if I put a stuffed animal in her cage?

I’ll have to talk to my local small-animal experts. For now, it’s late. I’ve cleaned the bedding (adding the flowers for poor Caramel), gathered up the sisters from their together-time in the floor pen, and after Bridget finishes her cuddle, will put them away for the night. I will be a little surprised if Caramel is still with us tomorrow, but grateful to have the opportunity to give her some hours in the garden. It was too cold until this past week, and then it was glaringly hot, especially without the full canopy of our linden tree. But tomorrow should be okay.

Please make it to tomorrow, little one. I’d like to give you time under the crabapple’s branches, nibbling the fresh greens and smelling the air.

Looking back while gazing forward

What jobs have you had?

Living with the chronic depression and anxiety, accompanied by body pains and extreme fatigue (that I now recognize as being part of fibromyalgia), I end up going through recurrent cycles or episodes of enduring inner battles and being extremely hard on myself while feeling debilitated. And I used to go through these periods while working full-time as a teacher… while doing my own course work… the struggle goes back for decades, really.

And yet I want to contribute to making society better, helping others however I can, while also being able to pay my bills.

It can get frustrating, then, to go through the career and job listings on LinkedIn and other sites, when I see something that could potentially fit my transferable skills and experience, only to be overwhelmed with feelings of dread and exhaustion while reviewing each list of required tasks and responsibilities.

I have to keep reminding myself that there are good, health-related reasons for continuing to put effort into building a workable editing and proofreading service, as well as my own writing projects. I am not well, despite having done my best for decades to pretend I was, to rise above my illnesses, and despite ongoing treatments, but I keep trying because — well, what other choice is there? I have my children to think about, my spouse and friends and extended family.

Therefore I need to continue find ways to work within my skills sets and abilities, for adequate pay respecting my years of training and experience, but at a pace and level of pressure or stress that I can regulate for myself. Being a freelance editor and writer may not be a reliable source of income for some months yet (hopefully not years), but they empower me to adjust my routines accordingly when those cycles and episodes hit and wear down my resiliency for hours or even days at a time. To be kinder to myself, setting and meeting my own standards with firm guidance or gentleness as required.

I have to keep reminding myself of these things, because before now, I have always ever worked for someone else. Going back to when I was 12 years old, these jobs built and rebuilt my resume until I plateaued in my teaching career:

  • Babysitter (most common first job for Western girls?) — this was occasional throughout my teen years, with the brief exception when I was 13 of attempting to look after two younger girls in my neighbourhood after school. Only a few days one of them locked herself in the bathroom when I wouldn’t let her go to her friend’s house (I had no instructions that allowed for this), and either I wasn’t invited back or I just said no…
  • Newspaper carrier — this was my main source of “fun-money” during my high school years. I thought it was a good idea when I began, around age 15, because it forced me to get exercise. The stories I could tell about that newspaper route… one of my customers was an Olympic boxer; another had a massive Great Dane who chased me on my bicycle. Sometimes I still dream about that neighbourhood, in fact, and the great hill I climbed to get home after my deliveries were done. I left that job when I was 17.
  • Sales person in a novelty and costume shop, also during high school. That was a crash course, very painful at times, in retail service. I cringe at the thought of some major mistakes I made. Can’t remember when or why I left that job — maybe I blocked it out?
  • Grill cook, making burgers and sausage-on-a-bun at a butcher/delicatessen’s outdoor grill. I believe I was 16 when I spent part of my summer doing that job. It affirmed that I do not enjoy working with food or with a boss hovering at my shoulder. It bothers me that I can’t remember how long I lasted there.
  • Face-painter and Santa’s House photographer at a theme park — I was most definitely 17 when I worked there. It was the closest I ever came to fulfilling a short-lived dream to be a character at a major theme park. I learned a lot about trends while painting children’s faces, and a bit about the inner workings of such places of family entertainment. And it was my first experience of commuting.
  • Catering staff at my university — setting up coffee and tea stations, sometimes with food, always with tablecloths; checking cards during student meals; helping to assemble tables, serving at, and cleaning up after banquets and weddings… please, let me never have to work with food again.
  • Sales staff at Zeller’s — pricing items and stocking dusty shelves. I was able to do that job for about a month before Christmas before my energy petered out, while also doing the catering tasks and going to classes for my undergrad degree.
  • Sales staff at another costume rental shop — was that before or after Zeller’s? Might have been before… I cleaned, put together balloon bouquets, and performed as a costumed entertainer at kids’ parties and to deliver those balloons.
  • Perfume demonstrator in a department store — a whole other world, that was, with some perks and a certain kind of challenge. More than one, actually. I’ll never forget the one day when I was wandering the clothing section with my fan of scented sample cards, trying to figure out why my body felt so heavy and my mood was so low… around the corner of a rack of dresses or suit jackets was an older lady, impeccably dressed and finely made-up. I greeted her and offered her a fragrance sample; she smiled at me so gently and sweetly, I nearly cried. It was a significant moment for reasons I still struggle to comprehend, let alone express.
  • Children’s Program Director and Curator Assistant — this was by far my favourite job in the entirety of my undergraduate degree experience. While it was difficult to balance the tasks in the dual position, it was so satisfying. I was planning and carrying out summer camp history appreciation activities, including advertising and volunteer outreach, while also helping to digitize the museum’s collections records. I enjoyed it so much that for a while, I even considered aiming for a specific graduate degree in museum studies. I spent one summer in this job, and then later developed and implemented a March Break camp for children in the same facility while a new mother to my son, a tiny infant at the time.
  • Coffee slinger at a bagel shop — tried my hand at the life of a barista for about a month before I had enough. That was right around the time when Ontario was implementing the smoking bans in public places. It was a real struggle to keep up with the bosses and the expected pace.
  • Landscape maintenance — at the end of my fourth year, while doing a summer course before going to the final year of concurrent teacher training, I decided to try working for the physical upkeep department of my university. I thought assisting with sweeping and raking, planting flowers and emptying garbages would be good for a number of reasons, not the least including getting exercise. By that point, I had been able to put words to and identify more precisely the darkness that rose up and threatened my well-being with frustrating regularity, though I was not yet medicated or in any counselling. I left that job after learning I was pregnant, partly because I couldn’t keep up with the summer course work, and partly because I was concerned about certain health and safety aspects involving the clean-up of pigeon poop.
  • The last job I took on before entering teaching as a career was that of a Children’s Program Facilitator for a network of rural libraries. What I had thought would be a summer of tending gardens and manual labour had turned into driving about sedate and dusty backroads, visiting small libraries to do activities and read stories.
  • And then, once I’d completed my year of Teacher’s College, I immediately applied to and was accepted as a supply teacher for two school boards. For a month, I was called a few times a week. I think I accepted two or three times, at elementary schools. At the same time, I had sent multiple resumes to multiple other schools, resulting in two interviews, one of which brought me with my spouse and our baby boy to the position I held for the next twenty years…

A common thread throughout each and every one of these jobs was an ongoing, distinctive fear of making mistakes. Of not measuring up. And how interesting to consider the parts of these stories that I cannot remember! Did I block certain job endings out? Were they that bad?

I would like to go through my memories and record what specifically I learned — what positive ideas and skills, that is — from each experience. And acknowledge that the mistakes I did make were partly due to lack of understanding, the ego of youth, a desire to appear infallible to be impressive as well as protect my feelings of vulnerability, and at tomes, just plain ignorance.

Something else I would still like to do, while becoming my own boss, is to open a mini-golf and Escape Room centre. Because out of all my work and volunteer experiences, what stands out to me the most are two things: that I want to find ways to help other people be happy and successful, because that makes me happy; and I want to provide a service that brings people together in an inclusive environment. These are elements I value highly in anything I do, or have done. Comes of being a people-pleaser and a natural entertainer, I suppose… but I just really want to help the world be a better place.

Now if only my physical and emotional states would just let me do the things…

On the potential of going back to graduate school

I had a really nice conversation with a credit card representative the other day… turned out that the young person is going through teacher’s college. We ended up talking for half an hour about the challenges of the profession, and I shared — summarizing as best as I could — what I had learned throughout my career, from my perspective in this relatively remote community and its specific demographics.

The representative was extremely kind and thoughtful, and at one point suggested that I consider reaching out to be a guest lecturer to his cohort of teacher candidates, or that I could apply to be a professor in the faculty of education at his Ontario university.

For a moment, I saw myself doing that.

It’s not the first time I have considered a career path in higher academic fields. I remember a moment, several years ago, when a colleague had suggested that I look into university-level teaching, and then told me how my face had lit up at the thought of completing a PhD and giving classes to undergraduate and graduate students.

I still would love to achieve a doctorate degree. I have wanted to have a PhD of my own, on my wall, since I was old enough to understand what it meant.

And it used to bother me greatly that I wasn’t as smart as the young prodigies who were able to race through high school. Through later elementary and high school, I struggled with insecurities regarding my intelligence, and I still have a hard time with the anxiety — feeling that a certain level of brainyness was supposed to be my identity, and that I was failing at it, not living up to expectations or standards, not even my own.

And yet I love to learn and I love to contribute to the body of knowledge belonging to humanity. I try to keep doing better as I know better.

And I am keenly aware of the cautionary tales about academia circulating in the world — stories of cliques and pressures involved with researching and writing and attending meetings while developing a thesis.

But in speaking with that teacher candidate the other day, the longing returned.

The good news is that if I do decide to go back to graduate school, especially if it is online (which I would prefer, given that I still have a child in secondary school and we live at least six hours away from any university that I could attend in person), I have had a taste of it and I know I could be successful.

Where I run into issues are these problems:

1) The anxiety reminding me that I could have made things easier had I chosen to complete a thesis as part of my PME, rather than going the coursework route at the time. It’s unfortunate, on one level, but not terrible — I would not mind doing a second master’s degree in a subject that I truly love.

2) Finding a program for a master’s degree that is decently rated or regarded, which is also doable in distance learning, and which would then lead into the PhD candidacy.

For example, I would dearly love to enter the program on folklore at Memorial U in Newfoundland. But it’s only offered in person. So I must wait.

3) Concerns about my energy levels and resiliency. No matter that kind of breakdown or burnout I experienced in 2019-2020, the general literature on these things suggests that it takes roughly 5 years on average to fully recover. I’m past the halfway point, but I still have many rough days, often in sequence, and I have to remember to be kind to myself and get enough rest. Do I have the physical stamina to get through two demanding sets of coursework and research, knowing that the second set will be even more rigorous and challenging?

Like the song says, you can’t always get what you want… so I must consider, what, out of these things, do I need?

One need is to add to bodies of knowledge, by putting my ideas out into the world. Publishing my thoughts, perspectives, research, and conclusions. What’s to stop me from setting myself a goal and sending work to an accredited journal?

And then, in a few years when the nest is thoroughly empty, maybe more graduate and post-grad programs will be available online, or I will be more able to travel. So maybe right now I am getting what I need in the sense of being able to rest as required. Any pressures I feel are entirely self-generated, and I am relearning — I must — how to manage them while coping with a brain chemistry that continues to insist on making everyday things seem more difficult than they actually are.

So I suppose, for the time being, I will keep the dream of a PhD in my pocket. And add the encouragements of others as they come along. The game isn’t over. It’s simply on pause.

Thanks for listening.

On Fictional Editors in Books and Film, and the Impressions They Give

It’s not a trope that we see very often, I think. In fact, in considering this topic, I was hard-pressed to come up with more than the following examples of movies involving editors of any kind as characters: The Proposal (2009), Never Been Kissed (1999), My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997), Julie & Julia (2009), The Devil Wears Prada (2006), and any of the Spider-Man movies involving J. Jonah Jameson.

The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) lists 70 titles involving book editors — yet only eight tagged with generic ‘editors’ as a keyword (none of them being Spider-Man?!?) — and I only really remember having watched one other on that list, The Holiday (2006).

I’m tempted to perform a deeper analysis, theorizing that literary editors (fiction and non) rarely appear as protagonists in narratives. I get the feeling that when they do appear as more than background or supporting characters, unless they’re involved in a life crisis, threatened by other-worldly or malevolent forces, or it’s a romance.

Note to self: still need to watch 1408 (2007).

Is it just me, or does literature and the media tend to paint the idea of being an editor as something that is … not exciting? As being valued support and/or controlling member of a writing team who tends to stay at the edges of the action, around whom flurries of activity revolve and to whom submissions are made for approval or denial?

I can see how that impression might exist. After all, the task of editing itself tends to be quite anchored, seeing as it involves (at minimum) poring over a document or footage of some kind to check for errors and fix mistakes. It’s not necessarily physical, unless an erasable, possibly magnetic board and removable notes are involved. Possibly a standing desk. And unless the editor is embedded within or leading a departmental team, the role is often shown to be fairly solitary and isolated by its very nature.

How many editor characters have been written and directed as being jaded, straight-laced, and even cruel in their decision-making and professional interactions? Alternatively, some have been developed as quirky, eccentric, overly kind, and eager to experience more, especially those characters who desire to make the leap from editor to writer, or assistant to full editing duties in service of producing excellent books and stories for the world.

How many of us can say we actually personally know a professional editor who can give us an accurate inside look at their lived individual experiences? Are the fictional editors of movies and literature in any way realistic depictions of the profession? Whether the characters are primary or secondary, what do they get right about the job and life of an editor, generally speaking? Is it even possible to generalize what it’s like to be an editor? Or are they idealizations based on the lived experiences of writers themselves?

In turn, how might the portrayals of editors in the various industries requiring them — newspapers, magazine, academic, and book publishers, manufacturing companies requiring production of clean internal documents, publicity firms, journals, etc. — have an impact on the growth and development of the field in the real world?

For example, what proportion of working editors today are BIPOC (AKA people of the global majority)? How many are women, or members of the LGBQT2S+ community? If the representation is indeed lacking of editor characters with these personal, cultural, ethnic, and/or spiritual backgrounds, as I suspect it is, then that’s deserving of attention. And so should be the development of editor characters who are whole, complex individuals rather than the stereotypes and caricatures that we may be accustomed to seeing in pages and on the silver screen.

I remember having a moment, back in teachers’ college, when a fellow student told me that they’d registered for the Teachers Writing Lives elective course, for the educator candidates who aspired to become authors while also in the classroom. I wished I’d taken the course at the time, and I kind of still do. From a basic Google search, it looks like similar courses exist today.

Because if we want to examine and then counter the negative patterns and impressions caused by the most common examples of fictional editors in books and movies, what better way than to pull from our own experiences, fellow editors of real-life Earth? And in so doing, use the narratives we both invent and recall as a means of deep reflection on our practices, our work-life balances, our incorporation of healthy lifestyle habits, our short- and long-term career goals, and a distinctly vital element, our networking.

Oh, that’s one other thing that I just realized is common to among the editor characters that I am aware of in books and films: they are, overwhelmingly, already successful in their professions. Where are the stories of aspiring, struggling, novice, and apprentice editors, other than Ryan Reynolds in The Proposal? Do we need more of those to help inspire the current and future generations who are drawn to correcting words and images, helping documents to shine?

Darned right, we do.

Editing is not an easy task, by any means. It can be as challenging as it is rewarding. One editor alone is lending their strength to a writer’s efforts in communicating their message; a team of editors working with solo or collective, collaborative writers are powerful entities, indeed. But we rarely see them, hidden away in offices and behind desks and boards and computer screens as they tend be.

And in this new era of ChatGPT and AI voicing, the role of the editor in polishing manuscripts is still significant. I don’t know about you, but when a congenial computer voice misreads or mispronounces something in an audiobook or a video, I’m willing to bet it’s because there was an uncaught or uncorrected error in the spelling, grammar, and/or punctuation that the artificial intelligence took literally. And it drives me up the wall. But again, maybe that’s just me.

Cheers, fellow editors. I see you, and I salute you.

When I get my business plan done, I think I’m going to make myself a hoodie emblazoned with EDITOR. Just because I can. And editors are awesome, no matter how they’re portrayed in fiction.

Thanks for reading! And please, feel free to tell me your favourite or most memorable experiences with editing or editors in the comments below. Change names to protect the innocent as needed, of course.

On determining career goals in writing and editing

Yesterday I was thinking about the ways that fictional writers are portrayed in books and films, and how those depictions can affect the way authors, and their friends and families, see themselves.

That led me to another question, branching from the concept of two types of writer — that being struggling and waiting for a ‘big break’ vs the wildly successful and prolific best-seller: what does success really mean in the writing, editing, and publishing industries, anyway? Is it only to be measured materially, in terms of moneys earned?

I recall a similar discussion that once took place during a professional development meeting, regarding the concept of success as it applies to young people moving forward during and after high school. Among the markers or milestones identified as having achieved success were, of course, good grades and course completions for credits needed to graduate, but then there was a levelling up or over, with a look at how to determine less quantifiable measures, such as happiness and satisfaction.

My position is that when participating and investing (time, energy, money) in some or all aspects of the literary field, every wordcrafter is implicitly or explicitly setting short- and long-term goals for achievement, and success is not going to mean the same for all of us.

For example, I once had a dear writer friend tell me that her goal was to become prolific, always producing something new for readers and building regular (or abundant) sales that way. The timeline for such productivity works out to a new manuscript every x many months. (There’s actually a great episode of Castle in which Rick is at poker with his successful writer friends, who chide him on slowing his pace to only one or two books a year.) To my knowledge, she is achieving in her quest, and feeling much satisfaction in the realization of her efforts.

But what about money?

In modern Western capitalist society, happiness and personal satisfaction tend to come second in line to the priority of achieving some kind of financial earnings from writing, editing, and/or publishing. Of course, being content and feeling validated are much easier when you have enough to eat and a clean, dry place to live. As the saying goes, money cannot buy happiness, but it sure makes life easier.

Therefore another reasonable, attainable goal might be to reach the point where participating in the industry gives the wordcrafter enough in return to pay the bills.

Depending on the rate at which an editor chooses to charge for their services — by the hour, by word count, by page count, etc., based on their experience and qualifications — it’s possible for that professional to aim for collecting a certain number of contracts per week and month to build and maintain a desired stream of income. The challenge then becomes actually obtaining those contracts in a highly competitive environment.

And it follows that success would (or could) becoming a recognized and trusted professional, sought-after and needing to schedule breaks in contracts rather than hustling to get them.

I would term that as being wildly successful.

And a writer whose fans are clamouring for the next work, who is approached by agents or publishers, is given advances and reaches a recurrent best-seller status — sure, that could meet the expectations of wild success.

But where my anxiety starts rising is in the thought of the pressure that might follow in either of those circumstances. Once that mountain is summited, can it be done again? If there’s a need for income, then the effort must be repeated. As many times as possible.

So is it possible to feel successful (even wildly successful) while also struggling to get that ‘big break’, even if it never happens?

Is it possible that feeling successful might come from simply being able to focus on and embrace all aspects of the industry in the hours devoted to working?

Given the necessities of earning an income — especially now, during a period of high and rising costs — I’m not sure it’s practical to untangle some degree of financial security from the definition of success in the literary industry, wild or not.

The next step, then, for anyone venturing into full-time publishing, editing, and/or writing, is to draft SMART goals for achieving short- and long-term success, using the measures defined by the individual professional: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

It follows that at least one of those career SMART goals has to include something about money. What earnings would be most realistic and attainable? And what would the contingency plans be if financial milestones are not achieved, or maintained?

There’s a very good reason why most writers and editors do that work as a side-hustle or passion outside of their regular jobs.

And therein lies a certain wicked problem, for those of us who can no longer, for reasons outside of our control, handle a regular full- or part-time job to cover the costs while building the portfolio and gaining contracts.

The flip side of that? It’s just as difficult, in another way, to build the portfolio and gain contracts when most of one’s energy and time is consumed by that regular job.

In wicked problems like these, there are no easy solutions or compromises to be found. There are innumerable options, and potential consequences, leading to one painful but undeniable truth: no movement forward can be made while sitting on a fence.

To be successful in a career, no matter what that means, starts with having short- and long-term goals for being part of that profession. Goal-setting is an expected part of a business plan, after all.

So, dear fellow readers and writers and editors and publishers, when you are identifying the metaphorical mountain(s) you want to climb in your chosen industry, what is your process for determining your aims?

Do you treat your goals like the thesis for an essay, or a problem for a report, by posting them somewhere visible as an ongoing, living checklist or chart?

What happens if you find yourself getting bogged down by details and possibilities? How do you cope with anxiety and financial strain while manifesting your dream?

How many of you have sought advice from goal-setting masters, career coaches, websites, blogs, or videos on social media? Were any of those resources helpful for you?

And finally — when was the last time you set a reasonable goal for yourself, achieved it, and how did you reward that victory, large or small?

On Fictional Writers of Fiction, and the Impressions They Give

When I get to turning over ideas for the two works-in-progress and other story ideas lurking in my files, sometimes I have to remind myself of the general advice, “write what you know”. And this makes sense, of course, because if you want to composing plots and characters that are realistic and recognizable, you need those details.

But sometimes I want to just follow my imagination into times and places where I’ve never been. That means taking the time to gather details — learning what is not known.

During that process, I find myself wishing for an assistant or two who might be able to seek out certain nuggets of information for me, either in anticipation of a plot development or to help solve a problem. Alas, having not yet achieved best-seller status at the time of this writing, hiring an assistant is beyond my means. And that’s all right, I really don’t mind doing research.

And neither does Rick Castle, the fictional writer played by Nathan Fillion in the eponymous series that ran from 2009 to 2016.

Among the fictional writers of fiction that are portrayed on the screen and in written works, I think Castle is my favourite. Emma Thompson in Stranger Than Fiction (2006) might be a close second. Her struggles with writers’ block resonate powerfully, of course, and I definitely appreciate her angst while she tries to figure out her next steps.

But it’s Castle’s enthusiasm for the writing process and his willingness to dive into various forms of research (mainly, in the series, shadowing a particular detective and her colleagues, but also performing interviews, learning new skills, and making notes all along the way) that I find highly appealing.

He has a gorgeous office in his loft penthouse apartment (see pictures below, featured in and found on Everyday Planet, posted by Jenny and Christie Childers in “Inspiration from Castle: Richard Castle’s Office, January 17, 2014 — I highly recommend checking out their page for more images!). His sumptuous yet practical living and working accommodations are paid for by his previously successful series of books, eventually adding an awesome computerized massive whiteboard to his set of tools, yet he typically writes with his feet up and his laptop on his lap. I don’t have a loft, a great big oaken desk, or a tablet of any size (save my mobile phone), but the feet up and laptop warming my legs — that’s a habit that I tend to follow. It’s a bad one, too, not great for my sciatica or my posture, so I am trying to get back to using my desk. And following another of his examples by recording plot points and character ideas on sticky notes.

Sometimes a fictional writer, perhaps by virtue of being developed by other writers, demonstrates some really great ways to get things done.

In Stranger Than Fiction, Emma Thompson’s character, Karen Eiffel, sometimes attempts to sink deeper into understanding her protagonist or a given situation by acting out the problem, unashamedly and with full commitment.

When that doesn’t work, her agent sends writing coach* Penny Escher (played beautifully by Queen Latifah) to help her work through the issues that are slowing her process. Penny’s strategies are varied, but the one that has always stuck out in my mind is checking to see whether Karen has received or procured fresh, new paper, which might cause some inspiration.

For a lovely and in-depth analysis of the film, I recommend reading Ellen Huang’s piece “Stranger Than Fiction & Meeting Our Maker” on the blog The Creator’s Apprentice: the spirituality of stories.


In my experience, there seem to be two main types of fictional writers of fiction:

a) those who are wildly successful but struggling to get the next set of words down, for a variety of reasons that can run from simple lack of inspiration to psychosis or insanity, and

b) those who are ready to be successful, with completed manuscripts of varying lengths, but who are lacking a publisher or an agent to give them attention.

One example of the latter (sort-of) is blogger Julie Powell (Amy Adams) in 2009’s Julie & Julia. Her frustration, which bleeds into and affects her marriage, comes in part from living as inexpensively as possible in New York City while also working a regular job. Now, we do need to recognize that Julie Powell was a real person, who sadly left this world in 2022 — damn you, Covid-19). So whether the character in the movie might truly fit the category of a fictional writer of fiction is debatable. But her experience, as depicted in the film, really stands out in my mind as being far more realistic and recognizable than that of Rick Castle. After all, consider the contrast between the numbers of hugely successful authors, on which his character is partly based, and the multitude of aspiring and struggling writers who are getting by while waiting on their big break.

What’s shown in fiction is pulled, to some extent, from reality. The degree to which imagination is involved can depend on the situation, the genre, and any number of other factors. Sometimes the fictional writer of fiction, like many protagonists, might give us what is likely unrealistic goals. But maybe the point is having those goals in the first place. And even if Rick Castle or Karen Eiffel aren’t real people, they were created by those who have similar experiences and processes and have been successful with them. In that sense, could these and other like characters become, on some level, like writing coaches themselves?

Now I am debating a rewatch of Castle from the beginning, to jot down the techniques and methods that I find intriguing or remind myself of what I have used before. I never did watch the final season of the show, actually … and shoot, I loaned the first disc to a friend sometime back in 2018.

Victoria B. provides a decent initial breakdown of Castle’s process here, in her post “4 Things I Learned About Writing From Rick Castle“. But I remember having gotten more specific when teaching in-person Writer’s Craft classes, and there is more to cull from the series, if I take the time to do so.

Another branch of this thought to follow is whether there are many interesting fictional portrayals of editors in books and film. Of course, The Proposal (2009) revolves around two characters in the editing industry, but we see very little of them actually at work. I may have to dive into that search tomorrow … maybe while Rick Castle is pestering Kate Beckett on the screen.

What are your (or your family’s or friends’) impressions of fictional writers of fiction in literature and media?

If you tell someone you’re a writer, do they start to assume you’re in type a), or type b)?

Have you consciously or unconsciously modelled your own working process after one of these characters?

Tell me all about it in the comments below. 🙂

On a more serious note re: education in Ontario

I am still of mixed feelings with regard to leaving my teaching position, though my body likes to remind me that it was the best decision I could have made.

Part of the problem is that throughout my teacher training and career, during professional development days and through various kinds of communication from various levels, I really internalized the message and belief that educators should be leaders, should be the change they want to see, and keep looking for ways to improve the system to reach all students.

I deeply wanted to meet that standard. I wanted to generate change from within. I learned with great difficulty how challenging — and, at times, impossible — that could be, especially during certain political climates.

It was hard enough when the provincial government shifted to Conservative-run, and plans for developing an Indigenous-led curriculum were abruptly abandoned … funding for support programs were reduced or cut entirely … and funds for keeping teachers’ morale up, such as providing food at long meetings, were taken away, partly out of the misguided perception that teaching staff is overpaid and spoiled anyway.

In the middle of that shift, I was doing my master’s degree, taking courses on the theories and practices of effective leadership, and it was both infuriating and disheartening that the frontline learners — because teachers and educational assistants are always learning — were no longer receiving any kind of support. Since I had began my career in 2001, there had always been a certain feeling of finger-pointing in the field: a suggestion that became a statement blaming teachers alone for noted declines in student achievement, especially in certain boards identified as “under-performing”. I’m not sure if this happened after the province began adopting standardized testing models, or if it began some years earlier, when the Harris government stripped funding and then the McGuinty established a funding model for classrooms that is based on population, which severely limits the kinds of classes a small secondary public school can offer.

But this attitude that circulates throughout Ontario society that educators get paid too much for too little work — it was one of the reasons I left. It had become all too clear that the people currently in charge of our section of Canada do not respect, trust, or appreciate the exhausting work that it takes to be an effective leader in the classroom. Many articles and editorials and blog posts have already stated that even before the pandemic, the job was and is getting harder, with fewer resources, and these factors are part of the trickle of experienced education workers out of the field and into stress leaves or other industries.

I really think that at the upper levels, this situation is kind of ideal: the more educators and EAs at senior-level categories who leave, the more new and less-experienced teachers and assistants can be hired to replace them, at a substantial savings, given the difference in most contracts between a staff member at 5 years or less of being in the classroom vs someone at twenty years or more.

(Also, my thoughts are racing on this topic… I will do my best not to jump around inefficiently while I summarize, because honestly, each problem in Ontario’s public education system — many of which were exacerbated by the first round of Ford’s four years — deserves an essay all on its own.)

You see, one of the tasks I had done as a Student Success Teacher was to not only track and document the various interventions implemented to support and assist high school students identified as at-risk of dropping out, but also to act as a kind of gate-keeper to help them (or their families/parent(s)/guardians) access different kinds of services, such as mental health assessments and counselling, learning disability assessments and accommodations meetings, community food providers, and even providing them with clothing items and/or hygiene products if necessary. This was out of the recognition that a young person isn’t going to be able to learn at their full potential if their basic needs aren’t met.

And when it came to tracking and documenting, a few times it fell to me (during the Liberal provincial government) to complete a massive Domesday Book-style cataloguing of the numbers, so that the Board and Ministry levels could see whether our school was maintaining its pass-fail rates, improving them, or struggling. And I am not a numbers person. The task involved a lot of data gathering and analysis, but I was always proud of getting it done in spite of the stress, because the picture seemed generally … okay.

For a while, my school wasn’t losing ground. We had some gains in pass and graduation rates, mainly through targeted literacy and math interventions. But the numbers weren’t high enough and the pressure for education staff to do more and better, with less, continued.

I received a lot of praise for the things I was doing to try to reach students who were struggling, which was lovely. Sometimes my efforts even worked, pulling learners on the edge of dropping out or failing classes back into the fold. But what I was doing was never enough, and the effectiveness of my strategies depended, in many ways, on whether the student even saw a possible, positive, future for themselves. When a kid is living with household instability and/or food insecurity, are having to couch-surf due to problems at home (including domestic violence), have undiagnosed or untreated mental illness and/or learning disabilities, just getting to the school and staying in class is a victory in itself. But some of them only show up because they have nowhere else to be, or because it is the only safe place for them. How can a child focus on class work and lectures if they’re not seeing the point? If they’re hungry, or scared, and misbehaving or lashing out because they don’t want anyone to see their vulnerabilities and haven’t learned how to regulate their emotions during a period of hardship? What if that includes being raised by one or more individuals who also had negative experiences during their school years, which could have happened for all of those reasons plus the impacts of the Residential Schools era?

A young person with no realistic or significant life goals for their adulthood — no plan for how they might contribute to their community or society in a positive, productive way, and/or for how they might support themselves beyond the bare minimum — is a young person who, for the most part, is going to drift and have difficulties connecting with and seeing the overall purpose of the lessons they are expected to attend and the work they must complete in the classroom. I witnessed this over and over during my 20-year career.

Teachers and educational assistants who are trying to do their jobs and give their students the skills and knowledge they need — in accordance with the official curriculum — can also get frustrated and feel helpless, moving into defensive mode, when they have run through their repertoire of tools and strategies to help a struggling student, and the problematic behaviour remains.

There is no such thing as only delivering the material. That may work for a very small subsection of the student population, but too many of them need in-class parenting and support to supplement or substitute for home situations outside of their control.

So when the government points the finger of blame at teaching staff and school boards, claiming they’re not doing enough to get kids across the finish line, it gets to me. It gets to me a lot.

The data that became the basis of the Student Success Program showed that secondary school students who earned 16 credits in their first two years of high school were more likely to graduate in four years (that being the goal set by the provincial government many years ago, after the fifth year grade 13 / Ontario Academic Course system was eliminated). Therefore Student Success Teachers are supposed to concentrate on grade 9 and 10 students, with the aim of ensuring that each learner in the cohort meets that milestone. Most of the first 16 credits are compulsory, which leaves the freer selection of elective classes in grades 11 and 12 as a carrot to keep them going. Plus, many of those electives need certain freshman and junior-level courses as pre-requisites.

It’s all good in theory. But add in those variables affecting young people outside of the school environment … the things that teaching staff cannot control, including student self-perceptions developed through elementary school, when their academic struggles would have begun, as well as their awareness of differences between themselves and their peers.

Helping struggling students to learn and complete the courses they need to be able to graduate high school, and go on to the programs and training that they have to take to enter some kind of career, is not an impossible task, but it is an uphill battle, even when the government was providing in-school supports.

And it’s about to get even worse than it has been.

As usual, the Ontario government chose a Friday to make a dramatic announcement:

New education bill aimed at lagging school boards, minister says

Some school boards, mostly in northern Ontario, rank low on standardized testing and graduation rates

Jessica Smith Cross 1 d

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce speaks at a press conference at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Ontario’s education minister says legislation that would increase provincial control over school boards is aimed at a subset of boards whose students have been falling behind on key metrics such as graduation rates and standardized test scores.

Stephen Lecce tabled Bill 98, the Better Schools and Student Outcomes Act, in April. 

One headline-grabbing section will give the province more control over excess school properties. It will also reform how local school boards are governed, including by requiring standardized codes of conduct for boards of trustees and providing for the appointment of a roster of integrity commissioners to resolve code-of-conduct complaints.

Lecce said 15,000 students per year in Ontario do not graduate from high school within five years, and that non-graduates have a 5 per cent higher rate of unemployment, a 13 per cent lower rate of labour market participation and lower incomes than the provincial average. He also noted students have regressed in some standardized test results through the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) as a result of the pandemic.

“Now in, addition, some school boards have consistently lagged behind on key student performance indicators, including on EQAO assessments, on graduation rates and student attendance,” said Lecce. “It’s why we’ve devised this plan.”

Lecce framed the bill as part of his government’s efforts to bring education “back to basics,” emphasizing literacy and math as foundational skills, while “not in any way denying” the importance of other development of other skills and social-emotional development.

“But yes, we do believe foundational skills of literacy and math,” he said. “Those anchors need to be mastered in the classroom as a first principle.”

NDP education critic Chandra Pasma questioned Lecce at the committee meeting, criticizing him for directing school boards to “do better, with no additional resources to bring down class sizes, no additional resources to address the fact that half of our schools have no mental health resources at all, no additional resources to support the fact that many children with disabilities and special needs aren’t actually even able to participate in our school system.”

She challenged him to name one school board that is “not interested in student outcomes and students’ success.”

“Well, I can name 10 school boards that have been at the bottom quintile of performance for the last decade,” he replied. “When you have school boards who have for a decade —”

But then he was cut off there by the committee chair, who said the time for the opposition round of questions was over.

While Lecce didn’t single out any school boards, the province tracks indicators of student success including graduation rates and standardized test scores.

According to the most recent available metrics, the school boards with the lowest scores were mostly in northern Ontario. When it comes to graduation rates, District School Board Ontario North East had the lowest score, as less than 72 per cent of students graduated after either four or five years in 2021.

It was followed by Rainy River District School Board, Keewatin-Patricia District School Board, Superior-Greenstone District School Board, Lakehead District School Board, Rainbow District School Board, Grand Erie District School Board, Hastings & Prince Edward District School Board and Kenora Catholic District School Board, all with rates from 73 to 78 per cent.

Meanwhile, the Conseil scolaire catholique Providence in Southwestern Ontario ranked first with a graduation rate of nearly 98 per cent. The Toronto District School Board — the province’s largest — ranked near the middle, at 91 per cent.

When it comes to the standardized grade 10 literacy test, the same boards scored near the top and bottom of the province’s list. 

After the committee meeting, Chandra told The Trillium she believes the minister was making unfair accusations about the boards where students are struggling, “especially when the factors that are hampering student success are actually within the minister’s control.”

In many cases, especially in the northern and remote communities where graduation rates are lower, the boards are having trouble recruiting and retaining qualified teachers and the government has “turned a deaf ear” on requests for additional funding for those schools, she said.

“So it’s completely unfair to pin the blame for lower student outcomes on school boards when the minister is not setting them up to succeed.”

Some school boards seemed to bristle at the suggestion they need the province’s help.

“While the changes may be intended to foster stronger trust and collaboration between the ministry, trustees and the professionals who lead our school systems, instead they seem to imply a sense of distrust in trustees and our senior leaders,” wrote the Lakehead District School Board in its submission to the committee.

It wasn’t alone.

The Toronto District School Board issued a press release outlining its “significant concerns” with the bill, including that the province can override local planning and unilaterally determine whether the board’s performance is satisfactory and, if it is deemed not to be, embed support personnel within the board. It notes the government hasn’t defined their scope of duties or given any “guidance about how these people will be considered, qualified or selected for their roles.”

The Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board criticized the “one-size fits all” nature of the bill, which it said significantly silences the voice of voters by restricting the autonomy of elected Trustees to represent the local interests within their mandate.”

“We have significant concerns that (legislation) will further erode the power and ability of locally elected school boards to advocate for and meet the needs of the students in communities we know best,” said board chair Steve Russell in a submission to the committee. “As the members are aware, local school boards were the first democratically elected representatives in Ontario and remain critically positioned to represent the communities we serve.”

That was echoed by the Ottawa Carleton District School Board, which said it is “concerned with the scope and breadth of these changes and their potential adverse impact on the local autonomy of school boards to act in the best interests of their communities.”

Other boards gave similar feedback to the committee and all called for greater consultation with the ministry before the bill and its regulations are passed.


As a former educator of many years, a parent of a young person still in high school, and a voter, I have so many concerns about this announcement … yet I know from bitter experience that reaching out to voice my critique and make suggestions is a futile effort. This is a government that actually hid the results of a parent poll when the results didn’t meet what they wanted.

But let’s take this announcement apart, anyway.

But earlier this week Lecce told the committee studying the bill it’s anchored around provisions that allow him to establish a framework that requires school boards across the province to focus the government’s key priorities on student achievement, and publicly report results in a multi-year plan. The government would have tools to address lagging boards, including by allowing the ministry to deploy “support personnel” to assist them.


Cross’s article omits the following quote from CTV’s report, which helps to clarify what Lecce says are the key priorities on student achievement:

The bill will also facilitate more training for teachers and ensure regular reviews of Ontario’s curriculum based on “labour market and learning needs.”

“I think our schools do great work. I just think we could do a lot better,” Lecce told reporters on Monday. “My mission is: we should lift our standards, [w]e’ve got to lift the ambitions of kids. There are too many children living in a basement, too many kids who lost hope in our province and country. It’s not their fault. We can do something better.”

“The point is that schools need to be emphasizing and focusing on strengthening skills that matter to parents, mastering the skills that are going to help young people succeed in whatever discipline they choose.”


Okay … he’s almost got it, there. So close to awareness! Yet the emphasis of increasing effort remains on the education workers who are already burned out and worn thin from the pandemic and the reduced funding that came before it. Wrong direction, Stephen. Should I give you formative feedback on this conceptualization of how to improve public education in Ontario?

There’s more … yes, there is accuracy on the need to strengthen skills. But what matters to parents isn’t always what is going to matter to a young person, particularly one watching parents struggle. The kids are aware that society is fixed and weighed against them. What is the point of plugging away at subjects and skills that someone distant from them thinks are important, when they have their own more immediate priorities?

Note that succeeding in a discipline of choice also means having access to materials and content supporting that. For example: I learned in spring 2020, when classes were moving online to help reduce the spread of the virus, that some of the big high schools in southern Ontario have science and trade classes that we could never offer in our area because the Ministry is still following that funding formula set up by Dalton McGuinty. Our local English public high school does not have Earth Science, or hairstyling and aesthetics, or even a sewing class anymore. Often, the administrators have to alternate Visual Arts with Dramatic Arts and Music, because there simply aren’t enough registrants to allow all three courses to run at the same time. Virtual learning was supposed to help solve some of these logistical issues, but having taught online myself multiple times before Covid, and having taken online courses myself, it is obvious that that solution only works well for a handful of students. And our school board must still limit the kinds of courses available online, as well as having a limited number of correspondence courses, some of which are outdated.

If Lecce really wants to help young people succeed in life, he has to remember that sufficient research exists to show every $1 spent on education returns $1.50 to the economy within ten years of a cohort’s graduation.

What would give me hope is if he said he was improving funding to provide more opportunities for learning in classrooms, ensuring that even the small schools have access to those amazing courses beyond the basics.

But no.

Instead, they’re going to spend money on “support personnel”.

What does that even mean? What will be the purpose of that role? Who will fill that position? How much will it cost? What powers will they have?

And then there is the ‘evidence’ that Lecce cites as rationale for this plan: the results of standardized testing.

He acknowledges that the pandemic has played a part in affecting graduation rates. Again, soooo close to hitting the nose! But what he fails to see, or recognize, is that depending on the EQAO’s math and literacy tests adds more pressure to both education workers and students. It limits what instruction and content can be provided in classrooms, where the lean is to ‘teach to the test’, resulting in another reason why struggling students disengage. The costs of those tests are also astronomical. And the argument ca be made that they are designed to please the upper echelons, reassuring families of means that their schools are better.

I have more knowledge of the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT), and I can tell you that it is questionable whether its quality is consistent from year to year. That the content of the nonfiction reading passages sometimes hits on concepts or environments beyond the lived experiences of most students in Northeastern and Northwestern Ontario. It’s especially challenging for kids who are English as a Second Language learners. The test is, in many ways, set by those hired by the government to serve certain agendas.

Imagine what progress could be made if the EQAO stopped with the OSSLT — what engaging lessons, focusing on truly marketable literacy skill sets, that students would see as mattering far more than passing this test, could return to classrooms, encouraging greater and more regular attendance among those who have struggled academically since elementary school; what money could be reallocated to supports for students with autism; what emphasis could be made on increasing cross-curricular student-driven projects, developing learning environments in which teachers lecture less and coach more.

Because that latter trend in classroom instruction — self-directed learning in smaller classes of 15 students to 1 educator, within a set of clearly-defined goals determined by the curriculum — that is what the last decade or so of educational research has been showing to be most effective in engaging and helping students to gain the knowledge and demonstrate the skills that they want and need for adulthood. Even more, this focus enables the shift away from out-dated lesson planning, leading to the incorporation of Indigenous teaching and learning practices, which could help significantly with Reconciliation as well as improving the next generations’ understandings of interconnectedness.

The model that most of us are used to seeing is the lecturer before a full classroom, providing information and then circulating to maintain discipline and focus, answering questions and providing real-time feedback at the same time. What I learned while doing my second graduate degree was that the body of research saying that this teacher-centred classroom model is based on the 18th century industrial concept of training up obedient and efficient workers. It does not answer the multiple needs of individual and collective students as we recognize them now, and I think a teacher-centred classroom causes more disengagement than remedies it, but that may be over-generalizing.

The bottom line for me is that the Ministry of Education in Ontario is continuing to pour money and resources in the wrong direction, feeding traditionalist practices that are not useful or in concert with the data and experiential research results coming from rigourous peer-reviewed studies in education practices. The familiar focuses and rhetoric may seem reassuring, with the blame weighing even more heavily now on the schools and boards who have been working with dramatically reduced resources, and unfortunately, a portion of the population will undoubtedly take it as such. But all I am seeing is a pattern repeating, and it’s one that does not produce the desired results. And it’s going to continue for three more years, at least.

I wish that I could actually communicate with Stephen Lecce, but even if he listened to reason and looked at contemporary research, it’s not just him — it’s also his boss, Doug Ford, who needs to look at the facts. Sadly, they and their party always seem to be less interested in understanding how to make the province better by investing in their future voting citizenry, and more focused on maintaining a status quo established some time in the last century.

I may end up sending the Minister and the Premier a letter. Maybe I’ll just send the same one over and over until I get something other than a rote response.

Whatever the education unions decide, I will support them. Whatever the frontline education workers want to do, I will support them.

And selfishly, I’ll continue to be relieved that I’m no longer inside the beast. And that my second child is nearly out of it.

Thanks for reading.

Just a fun bit about my little dog, Trixie

There are other posts on this blog about my wee pupper and our other pets, but she is on my mind because she really wants to be outside right now, just observing the world… but I do not.

I have no reason to not want to be outside. I should be outside. But I have Reed Timmer on livestream chasing (potential) tornadoes in the Dominator 3, and I know that if I do go out on the deck or in the front yard, I won’t be able to just sit. There is a lot of clean up to get done and I need help with it.

Plus, Trixie has gotten reaaaallly good at escaping.

She not only fits under sections of the fence around the front yard, and the gate, but last summer she discovered that she could go under the deck and slip into the neighbour’s yard. Naughty!

If she were a larger dog, I would be happy to give her alone time in either yard. But being a chihuahua-papillon mix, she is small enough to be carried off by another creature — it’s not unknown for small dogs to be targeted by owls, foxes, or even ravens in my part of the world. And yes, she has been swooped at and eyed greedily by ravens in recent years.

So I don’t let her outside without being close by, myself, even if I am just by the door.

There is also the Cat Factor: if I decide to sit outside with Trixie, inevitably Sylvie, our rescue cat, will want to be out there with us. It’s good for her, too, I know… I know. I have a harness and a lead to keep her from getting out of the yard.

Really, I’m being pet-lazy this afternoon. What I ought to do is set up my laptop so that I can track the storm chase while sitting in the sun.

But that is my other concern: I am trying to be careful with how much sun I get. I burn more quickly than I used to, thanks to some of my medications. There is a sun shelter on our deck — do I have the energy to locate the chairs?

Plus there is the escape risk…

I could try putting Trixie on a lead, again, but she will end up tangled around things. I have thought of getting her one of those electric fence doohickeys, but I don’t know if that would be worthwhile, and it’s certainly not doable today.

When the temperature is warm enough, I will also need to bring out the bearded dragons and the Guinea pigs. It’s only fair. (Still figuring out a way to give the sneks some secure outdoor time, too.) And then, after that point, I don’t go back in the house a whole lot, in order to ensure all of the animals are safe.

Getting everyone out and back in again is a whole process.

The crux of the matter for me, too, is that at this point of the spring, I feel a lot of pressure to spend time out in the fresh air and sunshine. The snow is gone, the warmth has returned, and what am I doing, still hiding out in my house?

The longer I sit inside, the more guilty I feel. Yet I also have the anxiety that comes from knowing that we haven’t yet solved the problem of Trixie’s escapes.

Plus… all my stuff is in here.

But I know the animals would be happy to get out and bask. We should enjoy the in-between time, before the extreme heat episodes and the rise of the insect kingdom.

Maybe I could haul out some lengths of firewood and shove them into the gaps where pupper gets under the deck?

On Beta Readers

When you have finished a manuscript — or even a part of a manuscript — and you want to see what someone else might think, you look for a beta reader.

Jessica Conoley has a great piece on the subject here: Why Beta Readers Lead You to Getting Paid for Your Writing (

She acknowledges that seeking out a test-read can be nerve-wracking, but is ultimately beneficial and a worthwhile, if not necessary part of the writing and publishing process.

I have never really minded seeking out beta readers, while knowing that other authors absolutely refuse to share one word or plot detail until their draft is finished. Unfortunately, my at-times eagerness to share has resulted in showing my WIP to the wrong individual, who was either not a fan of the genre or of a belittling personality altogether. Or my timing has been off, sharing for input after the ARC has already been approved.

As I consider going back to the two WIPs I have been sitting on for a few years, part of my shyness is the impact of that first experience with a poor beta reader. Thankfully, I no longer recall specifically what was said, only that it stung badly and left me feeling uncertain and insecure.

While not all of those offering feedback are going to be negative while they offer (or attempt to offer) helpful advice, it’s important to take that step back afterwards and consider their perspective. Their frame of reference is, of course, going to shape their response. And maybe it will be useful in engaging you in a sharper reflection on the work that you’ve done.

For myself, remembering what I have about that encounter has brought me back to another profound realization, or recognition; that the story I am writing should, initially, be for myself alone. I am the first reader of the words, the first to be caught up in the unknowns and the questions facing the characters, the first to be puzzling out the possibilities.

And if the draft isn’t making me happy because it’s just not, then I change it for me.

And then I find a beta reader who I know is more into the genre, for a more accurate take. And I might even be more specific with my requests for feedback, instead of leaving it completely open-ended.

It’s all learning.

So, fellow writers, who are your trusted beta readers? And what is your approach when you ask them for their thoughts?

Another challenge: Making time for the writing

While I work on building my editing service, I am also determined to get back to the stories that want me to write them. It’s on my daily to-do list, permanently.

And yet…

It used to be, ten years ago, that I would stay up super late after the kids were in bed, and power through until 1 or even 2 am, letting the story take me where it wanted to go. I called this, “off-roading”.

What I remember from that experience was that once I got over the hump of the first few chapters — or even through some interesting scenes, written non-linearly — and understood the characters and their conflict more, the rest would begin to flow.

So that is what I need to get back to.

I noticed this blog post on LinkedIn the other day, written by April Davila: “Writer’s Block? Maybe You’re Writing in the Wrong Format” (, and it reminded me of that past experience — the moment when I got stuck, and emailed a scene to a friend to ask for feedback, and with her help, realized I was writing in the wrong format.

It’s very frustrating to want to do a certain plot line or character development, but have the words refuse to cooperate.

Even more so when, as Writing Coach April says, “Maybe you’re not writing what you think you’re writing.”

There are two WIPs I have for which this observation applies: the creepy haunted dollhouse epistolary novel, and the haunted museum / mining town paranormal romance.

With the first, I have a binder filled with most of a manuscript, but it has been sitting and gathering dust for several years in part because the story wasn’t going where I had envisioned, and in part because I showed it to the wrong beta reader (mental note: read that blog post I bookmarked on beta readers…) I had an outline for the epistolary, lots of ideas on how things might or did happen, but it wants to do and be something else. Should I show it to another beta reader, in its current unfinished form, in the renewed hope of encouragement? Or start over?

With the second, I published the first chapter already as an incentive for myself: I wanted it to become something like a serial, release the next chapter every month until it was done, but that proved less feasible than I thought, given my new daily challenges. But I still want to explore and write it — there may even be a way to connect the paranormal romance to the epistolary.

If I reconsider the format of each, as Writing Coach April suggests, would that help me to get back some momentum?

It sounds like a worthy experiment, at the very least.

Updates to come…